Bill Clinton, another southern ex-president, doesn’t agree with his Democratic predecessor that racism is the impetus behind the strong anti-Obama backlash that’s been roiling across the nation in recent weeks.
Clinton, speaking to CNN’s Larry King Monday night, took odds with former President Jimmy Carter’s assessment that racial animus was fueling the outrage against President Obama’s health care plan and other policies. That public outrage has been displayed at town hall meetings and rallies nationwide, in the form of angry outbursts, and placards showing Obama as a clown, Hitler and a witchdoctor with a bone in his nose. During Obama’s address to the nation in a joint session of Congress, one Republican lawmaker, Joe Wilson, yelled at him, “You Lie.” Many politicians and Black leaders saw that unprecedented insult as proof of the lack of respect for the first African-American president.
But Clinton, who acknowledged that there are some “racially prejudiced” Whites who “would prefer not to have an African-American president,” said, “I don’t believe that all the people who oppose him on health care – and all the conservatives – are racists. And I believe if he were White, every single person who opposes him now, would be opposing him then. Therefore, while I have devoted my life to getting rid of racism, I think this is a fight that my president and our party – this is one we need to win on the merits.”
Therefore, Clinton added, “I really think that we should disaggregate lingering problems of discrimination from the attacks to which the president is subject.”
In a separate interview on CNN, the rock star Dave Matthews said that President Carter got it right.
When asked whether he believes the hatred directed toward Obama is motivated by race, Matthews, who is White, said, “Of course it is! I found there's a fairly blatant racism in America that's already there, and I don't think I noticed it when I lived here as a kid. But when I went back to South Africa, and then it's sort of thrust in your face, and then came back here – I just see it everywhere. There's a good population of people in this country that are terrified of the president only because he's Black, even if they don't say it. And I think a lot of them, behind closed doors, do say it.
“Maybe I'm paranoid about it, but I don't think someone who disagreed as strongly as they do with Obama – if it was Clinton – would have stood up and screamed at him during his speech. I don't think so.”